Minister Mitchell denies wrongdoing
Published 31/10/2010 | 02:02
A Cabinet minister has denied doing anything wrong by intervening to help a cocoa magnate who had donated £40,000 to his political office.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell stepped in after businessman Andrew Ward approached him over a trading ban that had been imposed on his firm in Ghana.
According to documents obtained by the Sunday Times, Mr Ward wrote to the new minister weeks after the general election asking him to lobby against the restriction "at a presidential level".
Mr Mitchell apparently phoned the British high commissioner in Ghana on the matter, even though it was strictly outside his department's remit. His officials also contacted the Foreign Office to say that the partial ban on Armajaro Holdings - imposed amid allegations that one of its contractors had been smuggling cocoa - required "urgent attention".
Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham subsequently lobbied the vice-president of Ghana on behalf of Mr Ward's company. The ban is now said to have been lifted in all but one of the country's districts.
Mr Ward made headlines earlier this year when it emerged he had cornered a big chunk of the global cocoa market - earning the nickname "Chocfinger".
The ministerial code states: "Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise."
The internal documents, disclosed to the Sunday Times under freedom of information laws, suggest Foreign Office civil servants raised questions as to why the Government should intervene to help Mr Ward's company.
The Commons register of financial interests shows Armajaro Holdings gave some £40,000 to Mr Mitchell's parliamentary office to support his work as shadow international development secretary between August 2006 and December 2009.
A spokesman for Mr Mitchell's Department for International Development said: "The letter from Armajaro was dealt with in accordance with normal ministerial procedures and it was immediately made clear that the Conservative Party had previously received donations from the company, as the documents released under FOI make clear. The matter was referred to the FCO through the normal channels."